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Hats Off for Heroes

Cross-section of trucking industry participants unites to remember wounded soldiers

By Todd Dills

When Marten Transport driver and 3-million-safe-miler Candy Bass saw a documentary on the Walter Reed Army Medical Center a few years ago, she was so affected by the scenes detailing the lives of wounded veterans that she determined to do her part.

Truckers News Senior Editor Todd Dills is the author of a novel, Sons of the Rapture, and blogs daily at www.overdriveonline.com/channel19. Write him at [email protected] or http://twitter.com/channel19todd.

She wanted to do something that would be of practical benefit to soldiers dealing with the personal physical legacy of service to the country. Likewise, perhaps more importantly, she wanted to send a message, “to let them know that there’s somebody out there who cares about them,” as she puts it.

“I want to let them know we didn’t forget them.”

— Candy Bass

Launched “four or five years ago,” Bass says, with the assistance of a then recruiting director at Marten Transport, Tim Ridley (now with Dave Nemo Entertainment), and other drivers, Bass’ program of hat donations to Brooke Amy Medical Center in San Antonio via Fort Sam Houston’s Army Community Services office today has achieved success to the point of donations far exceeding initially hoped-for levels.

With a Trucker Buddy liason to a group of Special Olympians in Grand Island, Neb., and the American Legion in nearby Gibbon, more than 1,500 caps have been collected this year. About 850 of them were picked up in Grand Island in the third week of October by independent owner-operator Howard Salmon, an associate of Bass’ you may be familiar with if you’re a regular Exit Only reader.

“If I hit the brakes too hard I’ll have an avalanche,” Salmon joked about the sheer volume of caps in his top sleeper bunk this year, not the first such load he’s run.

Salmon carried them until, unable to find a load going within the vicinity of San Antonio to get the hats to their destination, Bass made connection to the team at Kansas City and Joplin, Mo., locations of Con-way Truckload. By November 10, Salmon was passing the hats (no pun intended) to personnel at the company’s Kansas City facility.

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When I talked to Con-way communications rep Tera Lankard in early November, the caps were en route to Joplin, from which point company driver Bill Compton would move them to San Antonio on his regular Laredo run the first of December.

“What I think is so interesting is it’s all kinds of truckers,” Lankard said, “both company drivers and owner-operators, and it crosses company lines as well. It’s neat how it’s everyone working together.” Every party along the line on the hats’ circuitous route remarked on the trucking cross-section represented. No surprise, given the strong ex-military presence in the industry and general commitment to service members you’ll find from most over-the-road drivers.

As the wars overseas go on, the national media’s focus on the soldiers still fighting, says Bass, often diverts attention from the needs of those who’ve paid a big price. “I want to let them know we didn’t forget them,” she says.


November was national diabetes month, and as such the team at Vanderbilt University Press brought out the new book A Life of Control: Stories of Living With Diabetes, by Alan L. Graber MD, Anne W. Brown RN and Kathleen Wolff RN. Included therein was a section detailing the story of a now-retired truck driver who, in order to keep his job (with an impeccable personal safety record), for years was forced to devise methods to falsify his medical certification to meet the blanket ban on insulin-treated diabetics from truck driving. It’s a short, though incisive, portrait of the difficulties the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s prohibition put on haulers living with the disease. For an excerpt from the driver’s story, see the November 8, 2010, entry on the Channel 19 blog: https://www.overdriveonline.com/channel-19.